PG Score: 7.75/10
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is available for streaming on Netflix
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell honors the late Notorious B.I.G.’s extraordinary body of work, but more importantly, positions the spotlight on celebrating the life of Christopher Wallace.
An Intimate Look at Biggie
Through home movie-style footage recorded by his best friend, Damion "D-Roc" Butler, a much closer look at the hip hop legend is granted. The frequent clips allow for a more intimate and comprehensive view of the icon on and off the stage. These unscripted segments are among the film’s highlights as they are defined by an authentic perspective of both the gritty rap persona and the individual behind it who offered so much more. His sense of humor, compassion, and intellect are on full display and help provide an all-encompassing portrait of Biggie.
Director Emmett Malloy (The Tribes of Palos Verdes and The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights) does not shy away from the less glamorous aspects of the rapper’s humble beginnings, nor does he glorify them. Just like the rest of the documentary, these components are shown in an honest light and serve to give the audience a thorough understanding of the titular artist. One of the central themes of Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is the push/pull dynamic between New York’s criminal underbelly as a means of survival and his dream of making it in the world of hip hop. As such, detailing his illegal actions is that much more important since it emphasizes the tenacity with which he attacked his music.
The personal feel of the film is reinforced with in-depth interviews with the closest members of Wallace’s tight-knit circle. His friends, family, and business associates weigh in on his effect on their lives, his impact on the rap community, and his legacy. Sean Combs a.k.a. Puff Daddy is featured quite a bit and his firsthand experiences with Biggie are equal parts wholesome and eye-opening. In addition to helming the multitude of musical collaborations between the two, he also functioned as a mentor of sorts as he was instrumental in shifting any remnant of Wallace’s focus on illicit activity to solely making music. Throughout Combs’ interviews, it is evident how close the pair were and how large a void his passing created.
While the time spent hearing from Puff Daddy primarily covers Biggie’s contributions to the music industry, the portions with his mother, Voletta, tread through his upbringing. Despite being far removed from his hip hop involvement, she supplies insight into his early inspirations and paints a vivid picture of his childhood. Her Jamaican roots not only spread into her son’s artistic influence at an early age, but also played a role in his interactions with other kids growing up in Brooklyn. The incorporation of Voletta Wallace into Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell highlights a strong mother-son relationship and delves into an overlooked facet of the famed performer’s life.
Malloy implements a mostly sequential approach throughout the combination of D-Roc’s footage and the interviews. This enables the topics discussed during the 97-minute runtime to unfold smoothly and makes for more coherent descriptions of past events. The director avoids digging into the unsolved nature of Wallace’s assassination, which ensures the movie maintains its momentum and its emotional punch lands head-on.
Impressive Work, With Potential for More
While it does feel like a complete film, there is still a lingering desire for more after the credits roll. Despite the interviews with various figures associated with Biggie and the extensive material documenting his life, it feels like Malloy should have gone deeper with this endeavor. It raises the question: would this have been better served as a four-part documentary series? Thankfully, the finished product is impressive enough to mitigate this drawback.
The revelations unveiled in Emmett Malloy’s engrossing account of the King of New York make Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell one well worth listening to.